Omicron Row: Nigeria Hits Back, Slaps UK, Canada, S/Arabia With Travel Restrictions

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In a tit for tat move, the Nigerian government has announced decision to restrict airlines coming from Canada, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and Argentina into Nigeria starting from Tuesday, December 14.

Nigeria’s Minister of Aviation, Captain Hadi Sirika, stated this on Sunday in Lagos, explaining that it was to reciprocate restricted flights from Nigeria into those countries in the wake of the discovery of the new Covid-19 variant, Omicron in Southern African countries.

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Sirika said President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration would also place the United Kingdom, Canada and Saudi Arabia on a red list over the outbreak and spread of the Omicron variant.

The minister noted that if those countries placed Nigeria on a red list, they lacked a moral right to have their airlines fly into Nigeria on commercial operations.

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“There is also the case of Saudi Arabia that put Nigeria on the ban list. On Sunday, I participated in a meeting with the COVID-19 task force.

“We have given our input that it is not acceptable by us and we recommended that those Canada, the UK, Saudi Arabia and Argentina also be put on the red list.

“As they did to us, if they do not allow our citizens into their countries; who are they coming, as airlines, to pick from our country?

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“They are not supposed to come in. I am very sure in the next three days; Monday or Tuesday, all those countries will be put on the red list of COVID-19,’’ the minister said.

He stressed that airlines of the affected countries remained banned and the countries placed on Nigeria’s red list.

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Sirika apologised to Nigerians intending to travel to those countries, but said Nigerian government’s decision was in the interest of the country.

It would be recalled Nigeria was slapped with a Red List travel ban on December 6 despite Omicron infections also spreading rapidly throughout the British community.

The UK, following its flight restrictions to and from Nigeria, has only allowed British citizens and eligible visa holders to board British Airways and Virgin Atlantic flights from Lagos and Abuja to Britain. On arrival, travellers are then subjected to detention for 10 days in a government-approved quarantine hotel.

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Argentina, Canada and Saudi Arabia had also introduced similar restrictions that specifically targeted Nigeria.

The travel restrictions against African countries, described as “travel apartheid” by the United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Gutteres has been heavily criticised by the World Health Organisation, who decried country-specific travel bans, urging all nations to lift crude travel restrictions as quickly as possible. Britain’s Health Secretary Sajid Javid has hinted at possibly lifting Omicron travel bans in the near future but has not confirmed a timeline for easing restrictions.

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